Capitals move forward without Ovechkin, who says he'd like to play this weekend

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Walk into the Washington Capitals dressing room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and you won't find a single player feeling sorry for himself or his team. The Capitals may have to play without the two-time reigning league MVP, Alex Ovechkin, for a little while, but they aren't about to panic.

Instead, Washington is eager to prove that it can not only survive, but win, with its marquee player watching from the press box beginning Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils.

"Take some nachos, Coke and enjoy the game," Ovechkin said with a laugh when asked about traveling with the team despite being injured. "Hopefully guys gonna win."

"It's going to be a challenge," center Nicklas Backstrom said. "We have to show we can play without him. He's a great player and I think he doesn't want to be out, but. . . . we have to keep going. We're going to miss him in the locker room and his picking up the guys, but we'll have to step up in that way, too."

Tuesday, Ovechkin met with the media for the first time since Sunday night, when he suffered an upper-body strain against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He didn't disclose specifics of the injury or any timeline for a return, but said that he'd like to play this weekend in back-to-back games against Florida.

"I'm going to try, but you never know how it's going to be," said Ovechkin, who the team lists as week to week. "It's still the same. No better, no worse; still the same."

Ovechkin left Washington's 5-4 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets in the second period. It's unclear when Ovechkin suffered the injury; he appeared to favor his left side after a scrum with several Blue Jackets, including Jason Chimera and Jared Boll, along the boards.

Earlier this week, Coach Bruce Boudreau said he believed the Blue Jackets planned to target Ovechkin by hitting the all-star every time he touched the puck. Columbus Coach Ken Hitchcock confirmed Tuesday that it was indeed his team's strategy.

"Run, chase, hunt down, hit, whatever word you want to use, that would be correct," Hitchcock told reporters in Columbus. "He's a very unique player because he gives it and he takes it. He doesn't whine or cry about getting hit. He has fun in that role because the more you give it to him, the more he gives it back."

Regardless of intent or strategy, the Capitals know they must now try to snap a two-game losing streak without arguably the best player in the league -- a task they say they're prepared for. Yes, they'll miss his goal-a-game average and the attention he draws from opposing defenses will be more evenly distributed among Washington's other forwards, but the scoring potential remains.

Said Boudreau: "As much as he gets all the press, I've gotta believe we're not a one-man team and there's still a lot of good players there. A lot of teams, [Atlanta's Ilya] Kovalchuk's out, [Eric] Staal's out for Carolina and other teams are just moving on and keep going. We've got to be the same way."

Rather than trying to score an extra goal each night to make up for Ovechkin's absence, though, the Capitals believe this could be a prime opportunity for them to retool their defensive efforts.

"It's probably a long time coming," veteran winger Mike Knuble said of the Capitals' need to focus on defense. "We've probably gotten away with it because of the amount of goals he scores, just outscoring teams, and that's not the way its going to happen and the way it can happen all the time."

Capitals notes: Boudreau said Eric Fehr (ribs) will not play against the Devils but was uncertain if the team will call up a forward from Hershey or play Tyler Sloan at forward. . . . John Erskine (bruised hand) has been medically cleared to play, but Boudreau did not say if the rugged defenseman would be in the lineup. . . . Center Boyd Gordon is expected to miss his ninth straight game with a sore back.

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